The Psychology of the Sad Clown

FIGHT BOREDOM, SPREAD HAPPINESS

Is there a connection between depression and humor, really?

The death of Robin Williams has sparked some discussion about why some of the funniest people also seem to be the saddest. But is there really a link between humor and depression?

Though research on the topic is limited, there are a couple of competing theories out there. One is from the late New York City psychologist Samuel Janus, who looked at the link between Jewish humor and tragedy. A 1978 article in TIME describes his conclusions:

Jewish humor is born of depression and alienation from the general culture. For Jewish comedians, [Janus] told the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, “comedy is a defense mechanism to ward off the aggression and hostility of others.”

Over the 10 years Janus spent on his research, he also found that many of the comedians he interviewed (not exclusively Jews)…

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